Every year, we recruit a group of current undergraduates studying Modern Languages to support us with our work with schools.
These students, also known as Student Ambassadors, are integral to our outreach work since they can share first-hand experiences to support the advice and guidance we offer young linguists and prospective applicants. They also act as role models, helping to motivate, encourage and inspire young people through their current and future studies. The presence of Student Ambassadors at events and during our activities is vital to ensuring that the pupils we work with can make informed choices about their futures.
This year, we’ve taken on 15 wonderful new Student Ambassadors from across the different languages we offer at degree level. As part of their core training, we asked them the following question, just to get them thinking about the kind of wisdom they can pass on to pupils over the next academic year:
What would you tell your 17 year-old self before applying to university?
The image below showcases a selection of their responses. We found them useful and inspiring and thought you might too – happy reading!
Tip: It might be easier to read the image if you open it in a new tab!
One of the most popular sessions that we run with school groups is our ‘Why Study Languages?’ workshop. This can be delivered in person in school or here in Oxford during a study day or school visit or virtually, which often has the benefit of reaching a wider audience or multiple classes at once. The session can also involve different levels of interactivity with pupils and can be adapted to different year groups, depending on what is most appropriate and convenient for the target audience.
This session is delivered by staff and students here at the University of Oxford and aims to give pupils greater insight into the importance of studying Modern Languages throughout their school days and hopefully at degree level too. This can be particularly useful for year groups which are approaching their GCSE/A-level choices, as a way of encouraging pupils to continue with their language learning and increasing take up of MFL subjects at these levels.
Our ‘Why Study Languages?’ session usually starts with a short presentation which:
addresses some of the myths surrounding the study of Modern Languages and why these may not be true;
delves deeper into various aspects of language learning, exploring concepts like linguistic identity and the fundamental link between language and culture;
highlights the many skills which Languages students develop thanks to their studies; and,
demonstrates how and why these skills open up a truly varied set of career options for linguists.
The presentation can be accompanied by short interactive tasks for pupils to complete based on the topics covered during the session, or can be a standalone slideshow for pupils to digest on their own.
This is all followed by a question and answer session which provides pupils with the opportunity to ask our wonderful current Modern Languages undergraduates what it’s like to study languages at university/here at Oxford, what their own language learning journey has looked like, and anything else they might be curious about!
We’ve had some lovely feedback about this session from school groups we’ve worked with recently. The comments below from our time with Year 9 French and Spanish classes at Bacon’s College, London, made it clear that the session had impacted their decisions about languages moving forward…
From this session, I learned that there are more jobs opportunities than just teaching and translation. This encouraged me to continue to study French in GCSE.
– Year 9 pupil from Bacon’s College
I loved this session I am adamant that I will do a language for GCSE and A-level. Thank you for giving us this presentation.
– Year 9 pupil from Bacon’s College
The pupils also had some wonderful comments about what they’ve learned from the session…
I learnt from this lesson that languages are not just about grammar and vocabulary, and can be used for other uses like learning about culture and etiquettes. I understand how it helps in jobs and studies when we are older. I remember that daily practice is essential to improve.
– Year 7 pupil from Bacon’s College
What I learnt from the talk with Nicola is that to learn a language can be hard at first but if you keep practising, you will be able to speak fluently and that learning a language is important for many reasons like learning cultures.
– Year 7 pupil from Bacon’s College
If you’re a teacher from a state school and you feel that this session might be beneficial in encouraging your pupils to see the advantages of learning languages, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this week’s blog post, recent graduate in Spanish & Czech from St Peter’s College, Joe Kearney, reflects on his decision to study Czech at Oxford and where the journey has taken him…
I chose to study Czech at Oxford because I wanted to try something completely different. At school I had studied French and Spanish, and I wanted to learn a language from a totally new language family.
The first year of Czech was certainly the challenge I’d been looking for. I sat in my first language class of the year, in front of the Czech lady (Vanda, she is lovely) who had been tasked with teaching me and my three classmates Czech from scratch, and wondering how I was ever going to learn what any of this stuff meant. The learning curve was steep, but incredibly rewarding. We started with the absolute basics: how the alphabet works, how to introduce yourself, how to order food in a restaurant. By the end of my first year I’d read my first short stories in Czech and I’d been to Prague and worked for a couple of months as a waiter in a pizza parlour! Learning a language from scratch is fantastic for anyone who fancies a bit of adventure.
We spent second year developing our speaking, listening, writing and translating skills, as well as reading more and more literature in Czech. Because Czech is a small course, with just a handful of undergraduate students every year, the course is really flexible. 20th century Czech history and literature fascinated me, and I was able to shape all of the rest of my degree around it. I learned about the interwar period in the First Czechoslovak Republic, the Czech experience under communism, and the Czech journey out of communism in the 90s and 2000s. Writers like Jiří Weil, Ludvík Vaculík and Bianca Bellová captured my imagination, and I was able to take my newfound interests with me on my year abroad, where I studied New Wave Czech film, a history of Czech photography, and modern Czech politics at the University of Ostrava.
In Ostrava I got a job as a waiter in a tearoom (the best language training anyone could get!), I went climbing in the hills with my Ostravák friends, and I travelled with a great group of Erasmus students. One of the best things about the Czech Republic, we quickly found, is that it is a fantastic basecamp from which to travel all around Europe. I visited France, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, and even Sweden that year, as well as making use of the ridiculously cheap trains to get all around the Czech Republic. Some highlights were České Švýcarsko (Czech Switzerland), Skiing in the Slovakian High Tatras, and visiting Kraków, in Poland, and Stockholm, in Sweden.
My love for Czech grew immensely on my year abroad, and final year went by in a blast. More learning, and more opportunities to take the voyage of discovery further and further.
I would highly recommend learning a new language from scratch at Oxford. My Czech degree was a fantastic awakening to a new world of culture, travel, and wonderful people. I have never looked back!
A huge thanks to Joe for sharing his wonderful experiences of studying beginners’ Czech as well as the stunning photos taken on his year abroad in Ostrava last year (2021-22).
If you’re interested in following a similar path, you can find out more about Czech at Oxford here.
…MY JOURNEY WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF MEDIEVAL AND MODERN LANGUAGES.
This week, we hand over to Jasmine Kaur, second year BA German and History student at Exeter College, to tell us about her experiences of being a Student Ambassador for Modern Languages here at Oxford over the past year.
My work as a Student Ambassador for the past year has been a great learning experience. I clearly remember how, when I was applying to Oxford for modern languages, I could never have imagined to one day be able to sit on the other side of the table and actually become an inspiration for countless young minds out there (let alone be accepted into the University). Knowledge grows by sharing it. And I firmly believe in this. The more I have shared my journey, my learning experiences and my stepping stones with other students, the more I have gained and learned from them. Each session I had the honour to be a part of, whether in person or virtual, has made me more confident and curious about my own subject.
As a Sikh international student from India, languages have been ingrained in my upbringing. I was 4 years old when I could speak 4 languages. Currently reading History and German at Exeter College, University of Oxford, I noticed how much languages impact our daily lives. By being a polyglot, I was able to fit into societies I never encountered before, I was able to bring across my message to a much larger audience and could lend an empathetic listening ear to people from various cultures and backgrounds. Through my ambassador work, I wish to tell every child out there that languages are a powerful tool to connect with the world, to communicate your story, to inspire others but on a more practical side, to also get into a good university and find excellent employment.
In the past year, I participated in two open days and countless school workshops where I noticed how distant certain students feel when they look at an Oxford college and how many misconceptions they carry regarding modern languages. Throughout all the Q&As and presentations that I lead, I recognised how all those barriers were slowly melting down.
One of the most memorable moments of my ambassador journey took place during the Year 9 Languages Day at Queen’s College. Over 70 school students attended the day and I recall how a young girl came up to me and pointed out how happy she felt to meet a girl in Oxford who looked like her and also had long braids. She instantly felt more confident and actively participated in all the workshops that day. Looking at her felt like looking at my younger self and I felt happiness knowing that I’m inspiring change but much more than that – I was inspiring hope and confidence. The day ended with everyone being soaked in the study of languages and, in my case, with a full jug of squash, which I managed to spill all over me while transporting it from one workshop room to the other!
Every journey requires mentorship and a support network. I would like to shoutout to all my fellow ambassadors and students I have met on this journey – I loved meeting and greeting each one of you. I would also like to thank the Department of Medieval and Modern Languages, especially Nicola Brown, for everything they have done for ambassadors like me and the next generation of linguists. Their consistent and passionate work will inspire many more students to come!
If you’re an MML student at Oxford and would like to be a Student Ambassador for the Faculty, you can apply here. The application deadline is Thursday 3rd November (tomorrow!) at midday.
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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